I'm The One Who Is Me (Part 2 of 3)

It was strange, sleeping with three minds dreaming. Guests never stayed the night, but now here he was, on their couch. It was like trying to fall asleep in an unfamiliar room; not bad, just different enough that her mind couldn’t rest easily.

Momma left early in the morning. Even before breakfast. She was up before dawn and kissed LaRose on the forehead before walking out. LaRose was awake but kept her eyes closed. The kiss was heavy. It had sadness and a touch of shame, both still and deep. No anger yet. LaRose pretended to sleep mostly because if she opened them, Momma would be startled, and that would spark off other emotions, like dropping a match on a thin film of oil on top of a deep, cold lake. 

LaRose fell asleep again, and woke up to the sound of a cabinet being slammed in frustration. She sat up, hugging her blanket around her. 

“Is there anything left in this world that a corporation hasn’t ruined just to fit in a can? Jesus Christ.” He plopped a can of chicken broth down next to a box of instant grits, then stuck his head in the fridge. “Milk and real cheese. Okay. I can’t fix it, but I can make it less terrible.” 

He poured the broth into a bowl, then poured milk into the empty can before dumping it into the bowl. He gave it a quick stir, then tasted it by dipping one finger in. LaRose felt his ripple of disappointment. Next he started digging through the spices. There was salt, pepper and garlic to add, but he kept looking. He was frustrated, but his frustration felt different from Momma’s. More like a leaf floating down a river, not a squirt of dye changing its entire color. 

“You keep bay leaves around here?” 

LaRose nodded. 

“Am I looking in the right place?” 

She nodded again. 

“Well then where the fuck- hah! Got it!” he pulled the jar out of the drawer. “We’ll talk about what the hell this is doing way in the back later.”

He doctored the liquid until he was satisfied, then poured the grits in along with a bay leaf. 

“It’ll be best if we leave that a while before cooking it. You hungry now?” 

She was, but she shook her head. 

“Good. This instant shit will cook too fast to taste right, but if we give it an hour to soak it might get halfway to decent.” 

LaRose nodded, then grabbed a book and flashlight and hid under the covers. 

The wait did change things. The difference between what LaRose ordinarily made and what Uncle Taylor served was like the difference between a plain cracker and a grilled cheese sandwich. It was buttery and warm, and made her stomach feel like a fat happy cat was resting on it. Uncle Taylor still wasn’t satisfied. 

“Stone-ground is the way to go, soaked overnight. And decent stock. We’ll use up this shit canned broth, but we’re starting a scrap bucket to make real broth, with onions and chicken bones. And we’ll start keeping shrimp around here. Best way is to catch it yourself, of course. Tastes better fresh, and cheaper besides. But nowadays you need licenses, and even if you can get through all that the streams are too damn polluted to carry anything worthwhile. Fuck.” He leaned in and met her eyes. “Let’s get this one thing straight; you aren’t going to start swearing just ‘cause I do, are you? ‘Cause I’m not getting any crap from your Momma about my influence on your language, but I’m not getting through this bullshit century without some decent fucking profanity. You understand me?” 

She nodded. 

He leaned back in his chair and studied her. “Your Momma wasn’t kidding. You don’t talk to strangers.” 

She shook her head. 

“Well, I’m family too. Doesn’t that make a difference?”

She shrugged. 

“You know how strangers stop being strangers? It’s by talking to them. You ask them questions, you get to know them. Like, I’m a stranger to you. I’d like to get to know you. And I might want to know something you can’t answer with a nod.”

She nodded. 

He threw up his hands, as another leaf of exasperation floated down the big, still river that was him. She smiled, and giggled a little. 

“Ah-ha! It makes a sound. Now, what do you think of the grits?” 

She grinned and gave him a thumbs up.

“What do you want to get when we go to the grocery store today?” 

She shrugged and shook her head. 

“Nothing you want to get? No cookies, no ice cream?” 

She gave him another smile and thumbs up. 

“Shit, I can’t list things. That makes it too easy for you. Okay, now that you know sweets are on offer, can you think of anything you want to add to the list?” 

She shook her head. 

“What if I say I won’t buy any cookies unless you tell me, in words, what kind you want?”

She shook her head. 

“No cookies? No ice cream? No chocolates? You want to stay quiet more than you want to have dessert tonight?” 

She nodded. 

“Why?” 

She paused. Once again, her body had started doing the thinking for her. It felt happy and safe, with cheese-and-chicken grits in her stomach and this quietly emotional man sitting across from her. It liked keeping her mouth quiet because… because… 

Because he was sort of happy right now, and she was sort of happy too. They were playing a game, and it was a game she was good at. If she started talking, they wouldn’t be playing anymore, and what if she never came up with a game that made her as happy as this one? 

Well, she wasn’t happy anymore, so that was the end of that. Uncle Taylor was feeling bad too. It was a little bit guilt and a little bit worry, and it wasn’t going away as fast as his frustration and exasperation had. She was also wiping her face; her body thinking ahead of her brain again. Apparently she was crying. 

Uncle Taylor let out a big sigh. “Okay. One more question. Why are you lying to your Momma about using your powers?” 

She exhaled and shook her head. 

“You’re not lying?” 

She shook her head. 

“Bull. You use them all the time.” 

She nodded. 

“So you’re lying to her.” 

She shook her head. 

“Was she lying to me?” 

She thought about that. It was a philosophically complex question. She decided to shake her head. Uncle Taylor thought about that for a while. 

“She never asked you,” he concluded. “She told you that you needed to stop using them, asked if you understood, and you said yes. Or nodded. Whatever. Point is, she never checked up on that again. She just believed what she wanted to believe, and you let her. Am I right?” 

LaRose nodded. 

“I’m gonna make another guess. You aren’t being a bad kid. You aren’t using your powers because you don’t want to listen to her. They’re just always on. You don’t know how to stop.” 

LaRose nodded again. 

“And I’m guessing she told you that psychics who can’t get control of their powers usually go insane, right? Especially the heavy-duty ones, like seers, telepaths and empaths?” 

Nod. 

“Well, I’ve got good news for you. You come from a long line of psychics. Your great-great grandmother was a seer. Her daughter could control people’s dreams and memories. Her daughter after that could read minds. None of them cracked, and there’s a ton of family secrets I know that I can pass on. So you’ll be just fine.” 

LaRose shook her head. 

“No? You don’t believe me when I say you can keep it together?” 

LaRose started to shake her head, then realized it was ambiguous. She started to nod, realized it was no better, and then did her best to make a scary face. 

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?” 

She tried again, baring her teeth, curling her fingers like claws, and letting out a low growl. 

“Yeah, I have no goddamn clue.” 

She took a napkin and wrote. There’s a monster who eats sane empaths. She pushed it across to him, and he read it. 

Then he got angry. Real, red-hot, messy anger. 

“What the goddamn motherfucking fuck!”

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